Color is an essential part of the lives of sisters Angie and Michelle Dreher, who run Two Tone Press, a letterpress print shop in midtown Kansas City, Missouri.
But after watching a short video on Facebook, lack of color recognition grabbed their attention.
"It's like, maybe, a 2-minute video. But I was like crying," says Angie Dreher, who watched the video as people tried on EnChroma glasses. They're designed to boost and improve color vision for those who are color blind.
"And particularly, there's a gentleman that had never seen his son's drawings, and when he tried on the glasses, it was like, 'Wow, I can see the colors my son is picking ... there's something behind it.'"
If someone is color blind, or color deficient, it’s likely they can see colors, they just have difficulty differentiating between them. Like shades of red and green. About 1 out of 12 men experience color blindness, and 1 out of 200 women.
The sisters decided they wanted to explore the possibilities of revealing color in a new way. The idea fit in nicely with their interests. They own and operate Two Tone Press, and design and create letterpress prints — from band posters to wedding invitations.
"We spend a lot of time on our pieces, considering color palettes and trying to make the art pieces really colorful and pop," says Michelle Dreher. "And to know that some people wouldn't be able to see that spectrum, we really wanted to broaden their experiences."
They pitched the idea for a project called Eye Candy to ArtsKC-Regional Arts Council and won an Inspiration grant, with funding for two pairs of EnChroma glasses. With simple black frames, they look like tinted sunglasses. For people with regular vision, it's like seeing in HD; the colors are just a little more vivid.
But they needed a test subject who was color blind.
Dylan McGonigle, 23, graduated in December with an English literature degree from UMKC. And he has red-green color blindness.
At Two Tone Press, McGonigle volunteered to take some online tests on a computer. Then, with the EnChroma glasses on, he stepped outside.
"In general, things looked a little more red," he says. "For instance, I'm a songwriter, and it inspired a line about rose-tinted pavement because I'd never noticed there's an awful lot of red in the asphalt."
As McGonigle walked around the block, he says there were some things he'd never noticed before — including his mom's bright purple-pink shoelaces, and colorful pieces of debris. "One of my favorite things, we came to a parking lot, this is strange, but I'd notice a little candy wrapper on the ground, and it would just pop," he says.
The two sisters identified color schemes — such as gray and pink, red and green — that McGonigle found challenging. They created a series of flat tile Lego prints, each with a recognizable image in the middle.
"A simple spiral because we wanted to vary the line thickness, and it kind of swirls together, the colors," Michelle Dreher says. "And a music note was a very simple shape that would pop off."
Over the last few months, they've displayed the prints — and offered visitors a turn trying on the glasses — during events, such as Maker Faire Kansas City at Union Station, celebrating do-it-yourself culture.
About 20 people at Maker Faire who stopped by were color blind. And for a few, the glasses had no effect.
But Michelle Dreher recalls the experience of one 10-year-old boy:
"I showed it [the print] to him and he couldn't see the note at all. That surprised me. And once he put the glasses on, he could see it right away," she says.
"And I was just shocked by how immediate these reactions were. It was really exciting to know that it worked. And the mom was tearing up a bit, and he had the hugest grin on his face, and he was just looking around."
Participants in the Eye Candy project were able to keep one of the Lego prints. More often that not, those who were color blind chose an image they could no longer see without the glasses. But they kept the memory of the experience with them.
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter, @lauraspencer.